Ryan: The shoey fits for Scott McLaughlin as IndyCar gains appealing new star in St. Pete
ST PETERSBURG, Florida – The NTT IndyCar Series’ newest winner was asked if he wanted a bottle of water, and an exhausted Scott McLaughlin politely declined with a question of his own.
“Why is there no beer?” a weary McLaughlin said with a smile while sitting on the aeroscreen of his No. 3 Dallara-Chevrolet during the procession of postrace sponsor photos. “Yeah, like, we need beer.”
Team Penske marketing and PR reps quickly huddled to make a phone call to the hospitality suites, and a gold can of Miller High Life was ferried over within minutes. As soon as McLaughlin popped the top, the chant began from a group of fans who had been shouting “We love you!” from just beyond the barriers surrounding victory lane.
“SHOE-Y! SHOE-Y! SHOE-Y!”
McLaughlin immediately stood up in his cockpit, removed his right shoe and emptied in 12 ounces of alcohol with an elaborate flourish. In a triumphant pose, he guzzled down the champagne of beers to raucous cheers.
“Doesn’t taste any better,” he said while immediately re-donning the boot that was now ruined.
It wasn’t McLaughlin’s first shoey – a victory celebration that is popular Down Under and made famous by Australian Daniel Ricciardo after his F1 wins.
But it surely won’t be McLaughin’s last in IndyCar, whose 2022 season opener christened a budding star Sunday.
As a rookie last year, McLaughlin started a #ScottLearnsAmerica social media campaign to introduce the Christchurch, New Zealand, native to the wonders of the NFL Red Zone channel, various U.S. landmarks and Bed, Bath and Beyond.
And there’s a lot to like beyond his mastery of the 14-turn, 1.8-mile temporary street course that he coolly tamed with aplomb while coming under fire from defending series champion Alex Palou in the final 10 laps.
He’s got the prim and proper Team Penske routine down pat (subtly sliding in sponsor mentions while keeping a positive attitude about seemingly everything), but he clearly knows how to party, too.
And he also has a delightfully self-deprecating sense of humor. “My butt is getting burnt,” McLaughlin told NBC’s Marty Snider after leaning up against his car’s exhaust to start his winner’s interview.
That was just after a pratfall began his initial celebration. Jumping off the No. 3 Dallara-Chevrolet sidepod, McLaughlin tried a half-corkscrew but was unable to stick the landing and tumbled harmlessly onto the asphalt.
“I couldn’t believe it,” McLaughlin said. “I jumped -- no shit -- and my legs just were jelly, bro. And when I hit the ground, I’m like, I’m done. I tried to make it as delicate as I could, and I just looked like an idiot. I looked like a wombat, man. It was bad.
“You guys hear of wombats? Or a kiwi? Kiwis don’t fly, that’s why they fall over when they come down from the sky. That’s what we did just then.”
For those unfamiliar with New Zealand ornithology, the kiwi is a flightless bird endemic to the country – and quite the opposite trajectory of its latest favorite son in racing.
McLaughlin, 28, has taken flight in a skyrocketing career that has him firmly following in the successful footsteps of six-time IndyCar champion and fellow New Zealander Scott Dixon.
Already a three-time champion for DJR Team Penske in the prestigious Australian Supercars Series, McLaughlin ranked third on Penske’s all-time win list before his Sunday breakthrough in St. Pete. “To win on both sides of the world is pretty cool,” he said after his 57th Penske win.
But there still was an element of New Zealand sorely missing from the win that McLaughlin ranked among the top four moments of his life (with his wedding day, Bathurst 1000 triumph and first Supercars title).
His parents, Wayne and Diane, were unable to attend. Because of pandemic travel restrictions in his native country, McLaughlin last saw them in January of 2020.
When he climbed out of the car, his wife, Karly, handed over a waiting iPhone so he immediately could FaceTime them with his mom and dad, who had been up since 1 a.m. in New Zealand watching the race. The tears flowed especially for his father, who wears his son’s racing gear and shouts at the TV while watching races.
“They are just over the moon,” Karly McLaughlin told NBC Sports in victory lane. “They’re his biggest supporters. It’s hard, and it especially hurts more often on days like today and yesterday with his first pole and his first win. It stings. I wish they could be here for him.”
His parents will be coming to visit in May for the Indy 500 and then staying for three months, but Scott McLaughlin still had several family members in victory lane Sunday.
Karly is a native of New York (she and McLaughlin met at a party in Las Vegas), and her parents, Denise and John, attended the St. Pete race along with her sister Taylor and her fiancée, Sean.
“They’re our biggest support system,” Karly said. “We’re so lucky to have them.”
Scott McLaughlin did have one Australian on hand this weekend, a mechanic from his Supercars team who recently moved to America in pursuit of racing work. It’s the first familiar face that McLaughlin had seen from the corner of the world where he was raised since October of 2020.
“I miss them dearly,” he said of his parents. “They’re the ones that got me here and made me believe in myself. My mom and dad have been infatuated with the U.S.A. for many years, and that put the love of the U.S.A. and the want to come over here to the big leagues when I was a young kid, even way before my Supercars success.”
As if being homesick wasn’t hard enough in 2021, McLaughlin also struggled through a mostly lackluster rookie season by his lofty standards. Amid a few brief highlights (a second at Texas), he finished 14th in the points standings on a team that had three series champions and two Indy 500 winners.
“I wasn’t kidding myself, but at the same time it’s hard to go from the mindset of win every week and that’s all that matters, nothing less, to going, ‘Hey, I’d love a top 15,’ ” McLaughlin said. “I don’t work like that. I’m a competitive bloke. I want to win. I want to get poles. I want to dominate races and not even worry about things.
“I did that for four years, and then coming here, basically, it just mucks with your head. You’ve got to be realistic about things, and I put a lot of pressure on myself, like, ‘Why am I sucking in qualifying when I’m good?’ It’s a mind game, man, and you’ve got to be on top of it. You’ve got to just believe in yourself.
“As a professional sportsman you go through highs and lows. You’re getting paid good money and you’re running 15th, it’s not good. For me it’s not good. I drive for the biggest motorsport team in the world. For me it wasn’t good. But I feel like today, this weekend, we proved that (with) hard work, perseverance, you can get there, and I felt very proud of that.”
There was reassurance from team owner Roger Penske, who told McLaughlin that “it’s a long story not a short one” when it comes to careers in racing.
McLaughlin also credited his wife, whom he called “an absolute rock. She’s put the belief in me. I would be nothing without her.”
“I’m so proud of him,” Karly said. “He wanted this so bad. He was so hard on himself last year. It didn’t go the way he wanted. We just said be patient, it’ll come. You’re an amazing athlete in what you do. And it’s only up from here.
“(The team) have all the faith in the world in him, and he knows that. He’s just harder on himself than anybody else, of course. But now the monkey’s off his back, and confidence is his biggest drive. And it’s on.”
The McLaughlin family wasn’t flying home until Monday, so the party was on Sunday night in St. Petersburg.
But Scott McLaughlin already was balancing the celebration with the preparation of being back in a driving simulator Wednesday to work on upcoming races at Texas and Long Beach.
“I’ll have a few beers, don’t you worry about that,” McLaughlin said. “But I’ll make sure that I get back on the horse. It’s going to be hard, but I’m there.”
The shoey in St. Pete showed he definitely is here now.
And it’s an arrival that IndyCar can be very happy about.